19 October 2010

Why do you write?

I recently reread Robert A. Heinlein's 1959 military SF novel Starships Troopers. I was struck by the realization that Heinlein is trying to influence readers and it made me wonder why he wrote. Was it purely to advocate his personal philosophies?

Critics have said, often in SF it is "...the idea that is plot and character..." (Farah Mendlesohn) and "…sf as advocacy, …[is] … the sf of 'big story' writers such as Heinlein and Asimov." (John Clute)
There's no question Heinlein has been very influential over the years, but it is because of, or in spite of, his advocacies?

Let's take a closer look at what Heinlein is advocating in Troopers. Heinlein's mouthpiece Mr. Dubois, the protagonist's instructor in History and Moral Philosophy, says, "The noblest fate that a man can endure is to place his own mortal body between his loved home and the war's desolation."

Of course, this refers to the lyrics of the 4th stanza of the Star-Spangled Banner by Francis Scott Key, which include,
O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
…And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

That's pretty blatant propagandizing on Heinlein's part!

It actually reminds me also of the sentiments espoused by President John F. Kennedy in his famous January 20, 1962 Inaugural Address, including,
In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shank from this responsibility - I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavour will light our country and all who serve it -- and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.
And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.
My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.
Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you.

All Kennedy's talk about this world really brings to mind other worlds. :) Will Earth ever be united? Face sentient creatures from other worlds?
At any rate, clearly, Heinlein was on his soapbox.

How about you? Do you have a soapbox? What themes do you seem to revisit? Why do you write?
Send us your (soapy?) stories!


David E. Hughes said...

I think the best stories have a message. On the other hand, a story that hits me over the head with its message can rub me the wrong way. For me, the message usually comes to me as I'm writing the story. It's a process of bringing my subconscious into the world.

Betsy Dornbusch said...

It's widely accepted that writers have themes. I too don't like being beat over the head with them. Using a philosophy of Story First usually lets the theme emerge organically.

Anonymous said...

I would like to read more on this site soon. By the way, rather nice design that site has, but don’t you think it should be changed every few months?

Todd Bradley said...

I definitely felt beat over the head with Heinlein's propagandizing in "Starship Troopers." I don't like the book much because of it. It seemed about 80% philosophy and 20% story, and I like the ratio reversed.